WHEN you think of Silvio Berlusconi, what do you think? Do you see him as the leader of the People of Freedom political movement, a centre-right party he founded in 2009, or as an entrepreneur, real estate and insurance tycoon, bank and media proprietor, sports team owner and songwriter?
In your mind, is he larger than life and immensely successful or a bit of a philandering embarrassment with outdated views and a penchant for verbal gaffes?
Actually, he is the second longest-serving Prime Minister of the Italian Republic (President of the Council of Ministers of Italy), a position he has held on three separate occasions: from 1994 to 1995, from 2001 to 2006 and currently since 2008.
He was born 29th September 1936, which makes him close to 75 years old and, despite some marital disharmony, he does give the impression of being indefatigable. Like all people and things controversial, he is an enigma and the Italian people do (at least while I’m writing this) seem to love him.
Italy is, perhaps, the birthplace of the enigma and Alfa Romeo is the motoring essence of all things enigmatic. It has a glorious history, dating back to its origins as the Società Anonima Italiana Darracq (SAID), established in 1906 by the French automobile firm of Alexandre Darracq, with some Italian investors.
It didn’t become Alfa Romeo until 1920, when the name of the company was changed, with the Torpedo 20-30 HP which became the first car to be badged with this iconic name.
The first racing success came in 1920 when Giuseppe Campari won at Mugello and continued with second place in the Targa Florio driven by Enzo Ferrari. Giuseppe Merosi continued as head designer and the company continued to produce solid road cars as well as successful race cars (including the 40-60 HP and the RL Targa Florio).
However, like all things with an exemplary pedigree, it soon came to exhibit some breed abnormalities and over the years, while the exquisite engines, designs and the evocative nature of the marque continued to make these cars so utterly desirable, the practicalities of ownership weighed heavy on those brave enough to risk it and both troublesome reliability and swingeing depreciation drove many a prospective owner into the safer but less rewarding bosom of mainstream manufacturers.
It was for this reason that I approached my test period with the new Alfa Mito with a fair degree of scepticism. Having previously owned a somewhat troublesome Alfa GT, I desperately wanted for the Mito to be a success story and a significantly improved driver’s car.
The situation I most feared was that it would just be another automotive equivalent of Sienna Miller – i.e. looks very pretty on the outside but rather vacuous underneath. I needn’t have worried though, for the model I tested, the top of the range Veloce model, not only looked the part but was also absolutely sensational to drive.
The Mito is Alfa’s smallest model and is marketed as direct rival to the brilliant, but rather ubiquitous, Mini Cooper. With a price list starting at £10,995 there are a variety of different petrol and diesel engines to choose from and a level of trim to suit almost all tastes.
I would, however, seriously recommend spending that little bit extra and opt for the 155bhp turbocharged rocket, especially in the highly desirable Veloce trim which features 17-inch exclusive alloy wheels, red painted brake callipers, Bluetooth hands-free telephone, and a rear spoiler all as standard.
It comes as no surprise, then, that like all Alfas the Mito can hardly be criticised for not looking the part, especially given the direct styling influences from Alfa’s flagship model – the absolutely stunning 8C.
The thing that most impressed me about this car, however, was the way in which it drove. The 1.4 turbocharged engine was remarkably potent and kept providing a constant surge of power right through to the rev limiter. The gear box was tight, precise and a significant improvement on the rather flimsy affair that was resident in my Alfa GT.
In addition, the twin exhaust pipe provided a sufficiently rorty note that was satisfying without ever being intrusive. The steering was also excellent although just a little too sharp on the turn-in for my taste.
It should also be noted that every Mito, when selected in the Turismo, Lusso and Veloce models, all feature Alfa’s pioneering DNA technology. This is essentially a switch mounted near the gear stick that configures the car to drive in three very distinct ways depending on which one is selected. These are Dynamic (A), Normal (N) and All Weather (A).
Now, whilst I should point out that the Mito was still totally capable when configured to either the Normal or All Weather modes, it was absolutely transformed when set into the Dynamic mode. A quick switch into D stiffens up the suspension, increases the responsiveness of the steering and sharpens the throttle response, thereby totally enhancing the driving experience.
I therefore chose to leave the Mito in this Dynamic mode for the entire duration of the test period and would highly recommend that you all do the same.
Whilst I absolutely loved my time with the Mito and would highly recommend that anyone looking to buy a small yet sporty runaround should give it some serious consideration, I appreciate that there may still be some hesitancy over Alfa’s historically suspect build quality.
This is why, and perhaps at the insistence of Fiat, which now owns Alfa Romeo, together with Ferrari, Maserati and Lancia, build quality and overall reliability has continued to climb in recent years to record highs – to suchalevel that owning a modern Alfa Romeo is now as practical as owning a Renault or a Vauxhall.
What you tend not to get with a Renault or a Vauxhall, however, is a bonus injection of manic grinning and a song in your heart. That’s what makes Alfa Romeo so wonderful and there should be a law that says that everyone should own at least one before they become too old and sclerotic like our old friend Silvio.